How Hypnotherapy Has Evolved Over Time

“So, I stare at the question blankly, the more I stare, the more my mind drifts and dreams and an answer seems impossible…. then from nowhere, or maybe somewhere…there is a small change…. something happens….my mind tells me what to do”

Although Solution Focused Hypnotherapy is a relatively new way to improve the lives of those that seek help and by new, I mean in relation to history and the length of time humans have walked this earth. We are indeed not the first of our species to believe that the power that we all hold in our minds, can and should be used to empower people to make their lives better, to heal, to help people live lives that are as free from worry and anxiety as modern life allows, to manage pain, to rid themselves of unwanted thoughts and habits, to be free of those things that only they know they want to be free from….

Whilst the origins of Psychotherapy date back to ancient Greece, with Plato, Socrates and Aristotle, who had theories that Humans had both a Physical body and a none physical mind. Our minds or souls were believed to have three parts, our natural desires, our will to allow us to resist such desires and our reason that tells us which desires to resist. A soul inseparable from the body and allowing us to survive and flourish as a living being. Theories and beliefs that have been developed, argued, proven and dismissed over many centuries, by many famous and infamous philosophers, all with one element in common, we have a vast resource contained in our heads, that provides everything we need to live as humans and make us who and what we are.

But let’s look at those that have had the biggest influence in the development of the Modern-day Solution Focused Hypnotherapy Model and the use of Hypnotherapy as a therapeutic solution.

The earliest influencer, the person from whom the word Mesmerised was coined, was a German called Franze Mesmer 1734-1815, who was a doctor in the late 1700`s. He had a theory that there was a magnetic solution that joined every aspect of the universe, including in the human body he called it Animal Magnetism. He believed if he could control this solution, with the help of magnets, he could cure diseases. He would tie magnets around people’s bodies and get then to drink a solution containing Iron, often an agonising time was had by his subjects before they were cured. Many people appeared to be cured by this Mesmerising character and his fame grew, but eventually after a rather large failure to cure a prominent person’s daughter, he left the town of Vienna to continue his work in Paris. His work in Paris took a slight turn, whilst still perusing his theory of Animal Magnetism, he would eventually carry out his healing in a more showman style environment, sometimes on stage. Mesmer treated patients both individually and in groups. He would sit in front of his patient with his knees touching the patient's knees, pressing the patient's thumbs in his hands, looking into the patient's eyes. Mesmer would move his hands from patients' shoulders down along their arms. He then pressed his fingers on the patient's abdomen, sometimes holding his hands there for hours. Many patients felt peculiar sensations or had convulsions that were supposed to bring about the cure. Mesmer would often conclude his treatments by playing some music. He also treated up to 20 people at a time using his Baquet, a contraption with Iron rods coming out of it that were held against different parts of the body to cure them. Although his theory of Animal magnetism was never scientifically proven, what was proven, was unless his subjects were aware of what was going to happen, his methods didn’t work, does this lead us to surmise that indeed he had a way of inducing his subjects into trance and his methods induced either a placebo effect or their subconscious minds believed they would be cured and indeed they were. Either way, it shows the influence that the potentially induced trance has. Mesmer, who could be considered the first “hypnotist” died in 1815, never aware the influence that mind of his patients had in finding the cure.  

We skip now to Scotland, James Braid 1795-1860 was a prominent Surgeon and inventor, who after witnessing a demonstration of Animal Magnetism, set out to prove that the theory was wrong, but in doing so, identified that the subjects having the treatments, were in a different state of focus and completely under the control of the Mesmerist.

This led to him experimenting and indeed proving the cure was indeed a peculiar condition of the nervous system induced by abstracted attention and not the magnets. So, had he just proven trance? Braid conducted many experiments to induce trance over the coming years and utilised it in his career, also writing many papers on the subject. He also came up with the name Hypnosis (sleep) but after realising that the trance state wasn’t sleep, he did try to change the name, but unfortunately the word had already been adopted. His career and achievements are far too many to list and discuss, but in relation to this brief history, was he the first clinician to bring Hypnosis to the eyes of the medical world? probably yes. Braids work inspired many medical professionals to utilise the power of trance in their work.

One of the most prominent figures in the world of Psychotherapy and Hypnotherapy, is Milton Erickson 1902-1980. He remains to this day a bit of a mystery, what he did for his patients is difficult to explain, but his results in solving the presented problems remains legendary. What we know he did do, is talk, listen, tell stories, reframe situations, provide metaphoric solutions and carefully use trance to allow rational thinking. He had periods of ill health which allowed him to people watch whilst lying in bed and this allowed him to read and understand people. He experienced a great deal of paid in his life and utilised self-hypnosis to control it. What he did brilliantly was find and encourage solutions, sometimes the methods used were small changes to behaviours that triggered greater change in the weeks and months to come. He was never slow in trying something different. He remains the grandfather of modern-day Hypnotherapy and his Ericksonian methods are followed throughout the world and are highly regarded. Could he be the inventor of the Solution Focused principles? Probably yes.   

In 1958, the Palo Alto Mental Research Institute was established by Donald DeAvila Jackson, set up as a non-profit organisation to research Psychotherapy. A cutting-edge centre and attracted many therapists from around the world. In 1966 the Brief Therapy Centre was created by Richard Fisch, John Weakland and Paul Watzlawick, their idea: cultivate a quick and effective therapy method, treating patients like people and to convince them to stop what they are doing wrong and replacing that with a solution. A lady named Insoo Kim Berg and a man named Steve de Shazer were introduced by John Weakland in 1977 and started working together, eventually becoming a couple. They relocated to Milwaukee and formed the Family Service therapy practice, which eventually became the Brief Family Centre. Over the years they developed a model of therapy that was Brief, solution focused and didn’t rely on dwelling on current problems, identifying that the client knows the best way to solve the problem and it was not essential to understand the problem to be able to find solutions. They had three very simple principles, if something is not broken- don’t try to fix it, if something works- do more of it, if something doesn’t work- don’t do it again. This and empowering the client to know what they want and encouraging them to know how to get it reduced therapy time dramatically. They used a scale to allow the clients to say where they were in relation to different emotions or challenges and developed, what is now called the Miracle question, central to the process, to encourage positive and constructive conversation. They identified that small steps create change and no matter how small these steps are, they are still creating an outcome that is moving in a direction that the client wants to follow.

So where are we today in 2022?

If we were to combine the best of what history has given us, what would we say are the methods that we would need to provide the most comprehensive talking therapy for our clients? We would understand from the ancient Greeks that we have a soul or Brain that’s needed for us to flourish, we would like the ability to provide a state of consciousness in which clients can be open to positive suggestion as James Braid proved that Mezmer was using in his “healing” demonstrations, we would need to listen and tell stories and understand what clients needed in the same way Milton Erickson did and we would focus on solutions, letting the past go and encouraging small steps for a future that our clients want, as did Insoo Kim Berg and Steve de Shazzer.

What we have is Solutions Focused Hypnotherapy, a model devised by David Newton at the Clifton Practice in Bristol. Focussing on educating the client how the mind works, to enable them to see the effects the brain can have on wellbeing, utilising scales to measure attitudes and emotions, asking the Miracle question to bring out small step changes in the client’s life and utilising Trance to allow their Conscious and subconscious minds to work in a more effective way, whilst encouraging positivity and solution metaphors. If we use what we have learnt and pick the best pieces for our clients, we should be able to provide them with the best possible care and we will…will we not?

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